Aristotle and Dante Discover an Alternate Universe

I'm quite taken with Michelle Ann Abate's essay about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe in the hot-off-the-pixels new issue of Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, whose theme this time around is "Queer Futurities." Much to my shame, Abate points out something about that novel that the review journals (including the Horn Book) and prize committees missed: while setting its story of young gay love in 1987-88, the novel never once mentions the existence of AIDS, which surely would have been on the minds--because news of it was everywhere--of its eponymous heroes.

What's most intriguing to me here is that Abate doesn't stop with that observation and its significance; instead, she goes on to ask a daring question: what if we imagine a world (as Sáenz's novel does, knowingly or not) in which the AIDS epidemic had not occurred? "Put simply, if homosexual men in the United States during the 1980s did not have to spend time fighting for their lives, what might their lives have looked like?" It's a heartbreaking question, one that reminds me of the last what-if scene of the 1989 movie Longtime Companion. (Those of you who remember that scene, go ahead and cry.) It also reminds of the freedom readers have to read the book they want to, sometimes beyond the author's best intentions. Always, hooray for that.
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.
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Maria Kyriakakos

It never even crossed my mind when reading the book, as heartbreaking as it was even without the AIDS crisis. Personally, I'm happy to leave it out and let the book have a happy ending.

Posted : Jul 02, 2019 03:47


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